White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai
One of the strange things about writing a month in advance is that things can change in the blink of an earthquake. What used to be a huge and popular tourist destination can literally be wiped off the planet overnight.
While not completely wiped out the White Temple in Chiang Rai was severely damaged during an earthquake on the 5th of May 2014. So much so it’s no longer possible to visit inside the temple. I stayed in Chiang Rai before the earthquake so I was able to visit this temple fully. Here’s a look at what was the White Temple, what’s it like now and what is to become of the temple.
What is the White Temple?
The White Temples full name is Wat Rong Khun. It is an unconventional Buddhist temple that began construction in 1997 by a wealthy Thai artist called Chalermchai Kositpipat.
Kositpipat has funded the temples construction himself as it’s come under scrutiny by many both in the government and in the Thai Buddhist community due to its graphic representations. The main building is painted white to symbolize Buddha’s purity while mirrored tiles and mosaics made from mirrors decorate it outside.
Surrounding the main building are detailed sculptures of serpents, demons, skulls, severed heads along with an area filled with arms and hands reaching out from what can only be thought of as some form of torment in the ground.
Some people say the hands represent greed and twisted faces are demons mocking people as they leave greed behind and walk towards the purer teachings of Buddha. The White Temple is by no means an ordinary Thai Buddhist temple as you can see.
Images around the White Temple
As you enter the compound (literally beside the road) you’ll see a bridge leading up to the main White Temple. This is symbol of a bridge from hell to the temple itself. Or according to another source a depiction of greed and those walking the bridge are leaving it behind. Take your pick! The white temple is said to represent the mind while to it’s left is a golden temple that is meant to represent the body.
Crossing over the bridge and into the temple one is surrounded by giant Buddhist murals with modern twists that involve the appearance of characters from movies such as Star Wars and the Matrix. Also depicted are scenes such as a plane crashing into the twin towers and the planet earth being devastated by a catastrophic event. It’s different, very abstract but not so bizarre as one might think.
For me though the real treat is the White Temple itself – from the outside. Sadly even on my visit much of the temple was cordoned off for building work so it was hard to go anywhere other than around. Nevertheless it’s still a visual treat for the eyes around the temple grounds.
The 2014 earthquake that damaged the White Temple
On the 5th of May 2014 an earthquake (6.3) hit nearby Mae Lao that severely damaged the White Temple in Chiang Rai (27 km away).
Earthquake photographs copyright: Bangkok Post
At first the damage seemed superficial with only mosaics and paintings being damaged. However as aftershocks continued and a surveillance team visited the temple it became apparent that the damage was a lot more devastating.
Murals collapsed and supporting pillars were damaged beyond repair.
The White Temple reopens (Thai Style)
People say time heals. In the case of ruined buildings this may not be true. But in terms of human resolve it might well be true. Chalermchai has now stated that work on repairs has already begun.
While the White Temple’s interior may be closed visitors can still visit and walk around the outside of the temple. Which again, is perhaps, its most interesting part.
The future of the White Temple
Chalermchai has admitted it will take about 2 years to repair the earthquake damage to Wat Rong Khun. Repairs are already on the way. Considering the temple itself is not scheduled to be completed until 2070 … that’s not too harsh.
Again, the White Temple can still be visited today. It’s free to enter the grounds. you just can’t go inside.
How to get to the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)
Train: There’s a train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok but it does not go to Chiang Rai, so you’ll need to take the below bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
Bus: To visit either make your own way to Chiang Rai via main bus. From Chiang Mai it’s about 3.5 hours. From Bangkok it’s 11-12 hours from Mo-Chit bus station.
Local Bus: From Chiang Rai bus station take a local bus south (13 km – 30 mins) to Wat Rong Khun. To get back simply wait the opposite side of the road for buses going back to Chiang Rai.
Tour: You could also book a tour from Chiang Mai to the White Temple for about 500-700 baht. Just be warned that it does get crowded there as all the buses seem to arrive at the same time.
Drive: Lastly you could just hire a motorbike are ride to the White Temple yourself if you are touring North Thailand.
The roads are good and most traffic signs are in English and Thai. I do advise you carry some form of GPS and or map though just in case.
Make that visit to the White Temple
Opening hours: 8am- 6pm
Entrance fee: free
Note: If you are completely “templed out” by wats in Thailand then make the White Temple an exception: it’s far different from any other Buddhist temple out there.
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